Holiday Gift Guide

If there's a photo enthusiast on your holiday gift list, there's a vast range of products that would make for highly suitable gifts. Whether your budget is tight or unlimited, the following accessories should bring a smile of appreciation and many years of productive use. With that concept in mind we asked several of our writers to compile their wish list of gifts for the holiday season.

Up To $100
Quest GOLD Ni-MH Batteries And Charger

Alkaline AA batteries are not expensive but theres a more logical and cost-effective alternative. Superior to the older NiCds, the Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) rechargeable AAs offer longer life, constant voltage in high-drain applications plus no memory effect. I have used the Harding Energy Inc. (distributed by Minolta, $50) kit extensively--four GOLD AAs plus Q2 quick charger--and find that these 1600 mAh models offer greater capacity than the more typical 1450-1500 mAh types. The kit even includes a 12v auto adapter, ideal for recharging when traveling. Although Ni-MH AA batteries are 1.2v (vs. 1.5v like alkalines) they work great in most photo equipment and offer very quick recycle times with electronic flash.

Up To $100
Adorama Portable Disc Reflectors

In spite of the advantages of daylight-balanced fill flash, some outdoor photographers insist on using only natural light. To bounce some extra light into shadow areas--whether a deep blossom or the eyes of a portrait subject--a reflector panel can be a valuable accessory. Adorama Portable Disc models are very affordable and available in various sizes and color combinations: Silver/White, Soft Gold/White, and Silver/ Gold. I find the latter most useful, regardless of subject type, and recommend the 32" size ($34) for convenient fill-in lighting for contrast control, plus modification of the color and quality of light. All of the Portable Discs fold down to a third of their working size for maximum portability, great while traveling or out shooting in the field.

Kenko Teleplus Pro 300 AF Tele-Converters

Photo hobbyists usually envy pros with 500mm or 600mm lenses, but its difficult to justify such a purchase for occasional use. Thankfully, theres a reasonable alternative, the tele-converter, such as the Kenko 1.4x and 2x Teleplus Pro AF models. Mounted on a 300mm f/4 telephoto for instance, the 1.4x or 2x converter will transform it into a 420mm f/5.6 or 600mm f/8 respectively. Both Kenko Pro models are suitable for use with pro caliber lenses. I dont recommend the use of any tele-converter with f/4-f/5.6 (and similar) zooms but they work very well with the 80-200mm and 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms. The Kenko Pro 1.4x and 2x models are available in AF mounts for Canon, Nikon (D, but not AF-I or AI-S), and Minolta. (Street price $179 and $200 respectively.)

Nikon 8x25 RC Mountaineer II Binoculars

Most wildlife, sports, and nature photographers would appreciate a pair of binocs if they dont already own one, or if their current model has taken a lot of abuse. For the active outdoor shooter, the compact Nikon 8x25 RC Mountaineer II would be an ideal choice ($185). This model provides a fairly wide field of view, adequately high magnification (8x), superior BaK4 high-index (porro) prisms, multi-coated lenses, plus eye relief for eyeglass wearers. Waterproof, shockproof, fogproof, and armored, these 15 oz binocs are highly portable but very rugged. If your budget allows, also check out the slightly larger/heavier (4x4.5 and 18.7 oz) Nikon Monarch 8x40 ATB Binoculars ($270). Offering similar features but a much brighter view, this roof prism model is preferable for the low light of morning and evening.

Graf Studioball Tripod Head

Outdoor photographers generally agree that the most convenient and effective tripod head is the ball-and-socket type. The Graf Studioball II from R.T.S. Inc. is the only such head with a true dual ball bearing panoramic base, useful for smooth pans and friction-free rotation. This Swiss-made head is also incredibly well constructed, with an extra thick wall, and a design that assures fine performance in the hottest and coldest temperatures. In spite of the name, its ideal for working in the field, far from a studio, and is used by many pros to support telephoto lenses and large format gear.
Instead of the hassle of working with three protruding locking handles, this ball head allows you to use a single knob to position the camera along any axis. Studioball heads are available with or without an Arca style quick release clamp with a safety lever that locks the camera plate for security. Select the quick release model and order an accessory mounting plate ($40) that attaches to a camera or lens. The latter then pops or slides into the clamp on the ball head. I recommend the pro SB-QR Studioball ($330) because of its 45 lb load capacity, but the smaller Mini QR head ($230) is adequate for gear up to 13 lbs.

Tamrac Extreme Photo Backpack 767

A photo backpack is ideal for any serious outdoor photographer, especially those with heavy equipment. On long outings, nothing beats the convenience of a pack configured to hold camera equipment, such as the mid-sized Tamrac 767 ($235). Because the Super Contoured harness (with thick padding) distributes weight over a large area, including the hips, it provides full mobility and freedom from fatigue. The many features include internal mesh pockets for accessories, attachment slots for the Modular System accessories, double handles for easy handling while traveling, and four D-rings that accept an optional shoulder strap, a very useful accessory. Tamrac offers a full line of photo backpacks from small to oversized but the Extreme 767 model (12x 11x15.5) is adequately large for most and fits nicely into the overhead compartments of aircraft.

No Limit
Contax T3 Titanium Camera

Even serious photo enthusiasts generally want a compact lens/shutter camera, especially an elegant model with pro caliber lens, superior craftsmanship, and high precision mechanisms. The most recent of these upscale cameras with luxurious titanium alloy body, the Contax T3, includes a newly developed--and absolutely superb--35mm Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar f/2.8 lens. In addition to the built-in flash, the camera accepts an accessory TLA 200 flash unit, with the optional SA-2 adapter, ideal for more distant subjects.

Yes, this elite model is expensive ($750) but it offers exceptional quality, performance, styling, and structural integrity as well as two important extras: prestige and exclusivity.

No Limit
Panoramic Hasselblad XPan Camera

In terms of increasing popularity, no other type of camera beats the 35mm rangefinder models. The only such product to include a panorama format, the Hasselblad XPan produces (long) 24x65cm images, great especially for land and cityscapes. Of course, it can also be set to shoot standard 35mm frames, making the system (with superb 30mm, 45mm, or 90mm lens) particularly versatile. This camera ($1700 plus lenses), with high quality materials and construction, includes a semiautomatic and manual mode plus overrides and motorized film advance for convenient operation. Look for the XPan kit ($2100) with 45mm f/4 lens and Center Filter as a gift that will impress even photographers who thought they already had everything.